Andrew Wakefield Goes Down Hard

I’ve written before about my strong support for vaccinating children and how, in the past decade or so there has been an anti-vaccination movement that has literally cost the lives of dozens of children in the US and UK of pertussis and measles. Now, the man who started it all, the darling of all the anti-vaxers out there has been shown to be, not just unethical and a sloppy researcher, but a fraud. I’m still digesting everything in the article and I’ll have more to say on that later, bur for the meantime, read it.

It’s good to know that sometimes the truth can win out.

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The New Freethinking For Dummies Media Site

I’ve set up a site, the Freethinking For Dummies Mediasite, where I’ll be posting audio and video related to the topics I cover on this blog.

If you have any videos or MP3s that you think might be of interest, please let me know so I can post them there.

The Risks vs Benefits of Vaccines. Now Stop Being An Ignoramus And Get Vaccinated!

There was a comment on my post, Vaccines – The Need For Informed Consent, that caused a flare up of my Tourette’s syndrome.

““I told her that my coworkers held common misconceptions about vaccines, like they cause autism and brain damage, or that there is mercury in them and since they were misinformed they couldn’t make an informed decision about it.”

But then you are the misinformed one, because if you look at vaccine court cases won, there are plenty that were for brain damage and even autism.”

Ok, let’s get some facts straight here. This is directly from testimony by Dr. David Satcher, Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Surgeon General of the United States before the House Committee on Government Reform, August 3, 1999:

“Today there are far fewer visible reminders of the suffering, injuries, and premature deaths caused by diseases that can now be prevented with vaccines. So that we do not forget the past, allow me to share some examples:

Polio vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1955. During 1951 to 1954, an average of 16,316 paralytic polio cases and 1,879 deaths from polio were reported each year. As of 1991, polio caused by wild-type viruses had been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere. We have a goal that by the end of the year 2000, polio, like smallpox, will be a disease of the past.

A physician entering practice today may never see a case of meningitis due to Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Before the introduction of effective vaccines, in 1988, approximately one in 200 children, under the age of five, developed invasive Hib disease. Hib was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children under age five– accounting for about 60 percent of all cases. From 15 to 30 percent of affected children became hearing impaired and about 420 children died every year despite antibiotic therapy. In addition, Hib vaccine has prevented the leading cause of acquired mental retardation in the U.S. By 1998, vaccination of pre-school children reduced the number of Hib cases by more than 99 percent.

In the 1960s, many people witnessed first-hand, the terrible effects of rubella, commonly known as German measles. During an epidemic between 1964 and 1965, about 20,000 infants were born with deafness, blindness, heart disease, mental retardation, and other birth defects because the rubella virus infected their pregnant mothers. Today, thanks to nearly universal use of an effective vaccine, the rubella virus poses virtually no threat to the children of expectant mothers.

The costs of caring for a child with congenital rubella syndrome are staggering, which brings me to my next point. Vaccines not only save lives, reduce pain, suffering and disability, they save money. The individual and community protection provided by vaccines help make immunization one of our most cost-effective medical and public health interventions. Most vaccines recommended are cost-saving even if only direct medical costs–and not lost lives and suffering–are considered. Our country, for example, saves $8.50 in direct medical costs for every dollar invested in diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. When the savings associated with work loss, death, and disability are factored in, the total savings increase to about $27 per dollar invested in DTaP vaccination. Every dollar our Nation spends on measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination generates about $13 in total savings—adding up to about $4 billion each year.” **

Vaccines mitigate suffering, they save money and most importantly they save lives! Got it! Good!

Now go and get yourself and your children vaccinated so that you, they or someone you know doesn’t become another statistic.

** http://www.hhs.gov/asl/testify/t990803a.html

Vaccines – The Need For Informed Consent

I was discussing my passion for educating people about the need to get vaccinated with my wife. We were specifically talking about vaccination exemptions in light of the pertussis epidemic in California.

I explained how two of my coworkers felt that having the right to opt out was important. She said that since I was such a supporter of critical thinking I should be supporting people’s right to opt out.

I told her that my coworkers held common misconceptions about vaccines, like they cause autism and brain damage, or that there is mercury in them and since they were misinformed they couldn’t make an informed decision about it.

I believe that more needs to be done to educate the public about the facts about vaccines. Another thing that needs to happen is that obtaining an exemption should be made with informed consent. For example, here is the current rules regarding vaccine exemption in California:

“Each student in California is required to submit a “California School Immunization Record” to be admitted to school (California Health and Safety Code Section 12-375).

On the reverse of the form is the following statement: “I hereby request exemption of the child, named in the front, from the immunization requirements for school/child care center entry because these immunizations are contrary to my beliefs. I understand that in case of an outbreak of any of these diseases, the child may be temporarily excluded from school for his/her protection.” To exercise the exemption, you simply sign the immunization record under this statement.

There is another exemption which is available, although it is more difficult to exercise because a medical opinion is necessary. If immunization is “contraindicated”, that is, considered to be potentially harmful to the child for medical reasons, an exemption is granted upon the filing with of “a written statement by a licensed physician to the effect that the physical condition of the child is such, or medical circumstances relating to the child are such, that immunization is not considered safe, indicating the specific nature and probable duration of the medical condition or circumstances that contraindicate immunization…” (California Health and Safety Code Section 120370).”

Why is it so much easier to get an exemption just because it is contrary to your beliefs, but you have to jump though hoops to get a medical exemption? Shouldn’t both require the same kind of standards?

I believe that if you wish to have an exemption because it is contrary to your beliefs, you should at a minimum be required to read, sign and have witnessed, an information form explaining the the real, proven risks of vaccines, along with the facts of the consequences of not vaccinating, such as the symptoms of the diseases that the vaccines in question are designed to fight and the facts about the injuries and mortality rates associated with each disease. This would be real, informed consent.

Yes, people have a right to consider not vaccinating their children, but that right can only go so far. It must be weighted against the public health risk of the reduction of herd immunity in each community.

We need a major public health initiative to educate the public about the real risks and benefits of vaccines. People need to be educated about the real risks of the vaccine verses the real risks of the disease itself because the risks of injury and death from the disease is far, far greater than the risks of the vaccine.

For information about the vaccines and requirements of exemptions where you live you can check out the following sources:

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Immunization Action Coalition

The Centers For Disease Control National Vaccine Program Office
Immunization Laws

The Centers for Disease Control – Vaccines & Immunizations

Time To Be A Dick!

A scant four days ago, I posted my views about Phil Plait’s Don’t Be A Dick talk at TAM 8. The upshot of which was that we need to engage people with civility, but there are times when ridicule is in oder. This, I think, is one of those times.

Today, I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I want to organize a vaccination drive in my area and requesting help to get it organized.

The only response I received so far was from one, Zack Wellington, of Brattleboro, Vermont, who, according to his profile, is looking for free-thinking canines to romp with. It’s too bad that Zack isn’t a free-thinker himself. He seems to have a very serious case of alt-med delusion.

There were three separate comments, each with responses. Let me give you the ensuing tet-a-tet in it’s entirety:

Jay Walker: I want to do vaccine drive in the Omaha, NE but have no idea how to go about it. If you know, send suggestions to jwalker1960@me.com

Zack Wellington: you are protesting vaccines? good boy! 🙂 LIKE

Jay Walker: Um..No.

Zack Wellington: sorry.

Jay Walker: Another reason to vaccinate, as if there weren’t enough already: http://bit.ly/a6eIy2

Zack Wellington: oh. oops. how about reasons NOT to vaccinate. more of those. Like autism, learning disabilities, brain damage…, not to mention contracting the thing you’re trying NOT to get.

Jay Walker: How about all of those things have been proven, time and time again not to be true? How about the thousands of children stricken with polio in the early 20th century and then vaccines came along and polio went away? How about the eradication of small pox and the millions of people who died from it before a vaccine? How about the three infants who died recently in California of whooping cough because the people around them hadn’t been vaccinated?

Zack Wellington: as Richard Bach said, “Argue for you limitations and they are yours.”

Zack Wellington: one of the great things about being “scientific” is that you get to focus on things you don’t want, sometime to the exclusion of all else

Jay Walker: Vaccinating saves lives. Not vaccinating cause avoidable death and suffering. Just ask the World Health Organization. Ask the parents of babies who died from whooping cough in California and Australia. Even if vaccines did have a risk of autism disabilities, which study after study have show they don’t, those small risks are far out weighed by the huge risk of death and disability when you don’t vaccinate.

First off, what the hell does, “Argue for you limitations and they are yours.” and “one of the great things about being “scientific” is that you get to focus on things you don’t want, sometime to the exclusion of all else” have to do with the point I was trying to make? What does that even mean?

How much freaking harm is going to have to be allowed to occur before people wake up to the fact that this anti-vaccination crap is just that, crap?!

People like Zack epitomize the credulous, unthinking, mindless magical thinking that runs rampant in our society. “Modern medicine is bad!”, “Vaccines cause autism!”, “Natural is good!”

I was born in 1960, at 28 weeks. The local hospital had just opened a state of the art NICU with incubators and doctors and nurses who were highly trained in the latest modern medical treatments. I should have died, and if I’d been born anywhere else, I probably would have. But I survived. I survived because modern, science based medicine had provided the tools, theories and training to save me. There was no shaman waving leaves over my head, no Wiccan priestess casting incantations in my direction, no priest with the last rights, just doctors and nurses who spent years in medical school and residency who knew what to do because science and critical thinking taught them how premature babies worked.

Show me one example of a time when an alternative medicine or natural remedy saved someone’s life. I’m not talking about eased their pain, helped them sleep or settled their stomach. I’m talking about treating their heart disease, curing their cancer, saving their freaking lives!

Of course they can’t show me. The trail of alt-med is littered with the bodies of those who sought healing in it’s magical, natural arms only to find out too late that it offered nothing but broken promises and squandered time.

I can show you millions of people who are alive today whose cancers are in remission and whose hearts and arteries have been mended by chemotherapy, radiation treatments, surgery and modern pharmacology, people who now have years more to spend with their loved ones and enjoy the gift of life.

I’ll end with Zack’s favorite quote, according to his Facebook profile:

“He is happy in his work because he is in harmony with his group and his emotions are flowing. He is free.”
~Natural Dog Training, Kevin Behan

You know, I wonder if he would have his free-thinking dogs vaccinated for rabbis or distemper? Somehow I suspect he would.

Have I been enough of a dick? Good!

Pertussis Epidemic – Kids Need Your Help!

There is a Pertussis epidemic in California, the worst since 1958. This is thought that lack of immunization or insufficient immunization may be a contributing factor in it’s spread. Skepchick.org is trying to help. Please read their post about this issue and help if you can by donating what you can.

For more information about the Pertussis epidemic there is an excellent article here.

On a brighter note, this is my 100th blog post! Yeah me!

When 99% Safe is Bad.

I’ve been reading about the Whooping Cough epidemic in California and a Polio epidemic in Tajikistan. These cases illustrate what can happen with vaccination rates fall off or are absent. As proof that vaccinations do save lives, I give you this report from Vaccine Central:

An outbreak of polio in Tajikistan has been halted thanks to vigorous vaccination efforts by 1,000 teams of doctors and nurses. The effort took three months to bear fruit, and was sponsored jointly by USAID and the Tajikistan Ministry of Health. The outbreak infected a reported 430 people, with 19 fatalities,  before it was brought under control. The most recent round of vaccinations was conducted on 15–19 June . Preliminary data report coverage of 99.3, with coverage higher than 97% reported from all regions and in the groups aged 0–6 and 7–15 years. Correspondingly, no new cases of infection have been recorded since June 21st. International travelers to this area, and other areas where polio is present, are advised to check with their health care provide to ensure that they are properly vaccinated against the disease.

You can find a more detailed report at USAID.gov.

Polio is a devastating disease that often leaves it’s victims who do survive permanently paralyzed and/or forced to rely on machines just to breath. This disease has almost been eradicated, but keeps cropping up, invariably in places where vaccinations are limited or even suppressed due to fears of the vaccines themselves. Where vaccinations programs are fully carried out, the disease disappears.

To give you an idea of just how bad this disease is, in the United States, the 1952 polio epidemic became the worst outbreak in the nation’s history. Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis.* The vast majority of those affected were children.

Smallpox is another disease that has probably been the largest scourge of human-kind in all history. Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century alone.** Through an intensive, worldwide effort, smallpox was eradicate, with the last known case occurring in 1975.

There are a lot of people, mainly parents, out there who believe the risks of vaccines themselves are greater than the risks of getting one of the diseases they prevent. Here are some Vaccine Injury statistics from 2009:***

Fiscal Year                 Total
2009                          397

It was projected that about 85 million doses of vaccines would be distributed in 2009. That means that out the 85 million people vaccinated, .000000467% reported side effects serious enough to be awarded compensation from the U.S. Government. That’s a 4.67 millionth of a percent! Assuming that the number of actual side effects was under reported, you will still need almost 850,000 unreported cases to get to even 1% side effects. That means that vaccine are 99% safe. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anything else anywhere with a 99% safety record.

Vaccinating our children is one of the safest and surest ways to ensure their health and the health of the population at large. To argue otherwise in the face of over 50 years of success in either eradicating or significantly reducing the numbers of serious preventable diseases is irresponsible and morally reprehensible.

Next time you hear stories of the dangers of vaccinations, just remember, the numbers, science and data are overwhelming against them.

* Poliomyelitis, Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poliomyelitis#Eradication
*Smallpox, Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smallpox#Eradication
***U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/statistics_report.htm